Monday, January 7, 2013

How Sustainable Food Promotion Healthy Living!

Here's a great way to start off 2013 - with some healthy living news about sustainable food!  The Pesticide Action Network posted an insightful guest blog post.  Way to start off 2013 on a healthy (and tasty) foundation!

The challenges faced by biodiversity-based ecological agriculture are not primarily technical but political. Evidence from three countries shows farming without fossil fuels works. But such methods will only be adopted widely once we prevail over the political power of agribusiness.
Food production systems that do not use or make minimal use of fossil fuels exist and are successfully feeding communities. Across the world, smallholder farmers, gardeners and other small-scale food producers have decided to minimize the use of unsustainable and harmful inputs that depend on fossil fuels, such as pesticides and fertilizers, as well as heavy machinery — and have in the process reduced their carbon footprint.

Biodiversity-based ecological agriculture

Biodiversity-based ecological agriculture (BEA) conserves biodiversity and reinforces ecological principles that are suitable for local ecosystems. The starting point is maintaining soil fertility and, as Professor Norman Uphoff of Cornell University says, “Feed the soil and soil will feed the plant.” Soil fertility can be maintained by using alternative sources of soil nitrogen, reducing soil erosion, practicing soil and water conservation, using animal and green manures, mulching and composting.  
Such ecological practices include crop rotations that mitigate weeds, disease, insect and other pest problems, as well as farmer field school integrated pest management through understanding crop ecology and pest life cycles. Farmers can make informed decisions in the fields on the use of resistant varieties, the timing of planting, biological pest controls and increased mechanical and biological weed control.  
The starting point of biodiversity-based agriculture is maintaining soil fertility.
Many of these practices make use of local ecological resources in a balanced way and then regenerate them. They build on local and indigenous knowledge developed by women and men small-scale food producers over generations, through experimentation and innovation when faced with problems.
These BEA models are in widespread use. For example, 20,000 rice farmers practice low external-input sustainable agriculture in Tamil Nadu; 56,000 rice farmers practice non-chemical System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Cambodia and around 35,000 BEA rice farmers use the MASIPAG approach in the Philippines.  
The SRI farmer I met in Cambodia grows rice, herbs and vegetables, keeps hens and ducks, and maintains a one-hectare rice plot with his family members. With the SRI method, the rice has more tillers per plant, larger panicles and heavier grains, and uses less water. Due to stronger root systems, the SRI plant is more resistant to climatic “extreme events,” such as storms or heat spells. Savings from not using commercial pesticides and fertilizers mean the farmer earns more net income. His daughter and son who had left to earn a living in the city have returned to work with him on the farm. The family’s total earnings now are substantially higher than when they were working in the city as labourers.
His daughter and son who had left to earn a living in the city have returned to work with him on the farm.In the Philippines, MASIPAG was first organized 27 years ago as a collaborative initiative between farmers and scientists to conserve traditional rice varieties and breed new ones. Today, the program maintains an in-situ reserve of a thousand local varieties and another thousand MASIPAG-bred rice selections, some 300 of which were bred by farmers. These include varieties that are higher yielding, more nutritious, and better able to resist pest attacks.  
The approach prioritizes farmers’ empowerment and organizing so that rice research and development is needs-driven and builds a sense of ownership among farmers. The MASIPAG farmers continuously experiment with participatory methods as well as ecological farm management and local market development. The program has also expanded into corn breeding, livestock breeding and production, diversified integrated farm systems and local organic market development.   
In Tamil Nadu, I met Ganapathy some time ago, a farmer who practices integrated farming with low external input sustainable agriculture. He grows rice, fruits and vegetables, keeps cows, hens and ducks, and rears fish in the rice field. His ducks and fish keep the rice pests in check and fertilize his fields with their waste. The ducks are let into the paddy field to eat the weeds, which has reduced the need for manual labour. The ducks also feed on insects and their egg masses. His small one-hectare farm is fully sustainable and he receives good income from it. His only major external input was a pump that draws underground water.  With a small investment in a solar water pump or photovoltaic water pump system, even this conventional pump could become a thing of the past.
Ducks and fish keep pests in check and fertilize fields with their waste.
SIBAT, a civil society organization in the Philippines has lit up the lives of villages by perfecting a micro-hydro system that generates electricity without the use of fossil fuels. This community-managed system provides lights and energy for food and crop processing, and household livelihood needs. 
As these diverse BEA examples show, it is possible to produce food and fiber without any fossil fuel: from farmers’ seed production and sharing, to ecological food production without the use of pesticides and fertilizers, to alternative non-fossil fuel energy for electricity and processing.  
The biggest challenge that remains is the transportation of food products to cities, since most of our transportation still depends on fossil fuel. To reduce this dependency, communities around the world are opting for local food production and local markets. 

Local foods & local markets

Growing food locally and consuming locally grown food makes sense since transport costs are minimized, and we can benefit from nutrients that are often lost when foods are processed and transported to urban supermarkets. One system that works is community supported agriculture (for example, the Teikei system in Japan) where consumers invest in organic or BEA farmers by subscription. The organic farmers are guaranteed a fair price and consumers are assured that the produce they receive is clean and free of fossil fuel additives.  
As consumers become more concerned about their health and are armed with information, they are opting for more BEA foods. However, access to safe food for urban consumers remains a challenge even with emerging urban gardening projects around the world. This is where we will still need political will and government financial support to fast-track the development of BEA food production and cleaner, renewable energy technologies. 
The main challenges to mainstreaming BEA food systems are not technical but political.The main challenge to mainstream BEA food systems is not technical but political. We need to prevail over the political and economic power of the agribusiness sector that drives the expansion of the unsustainable corporate model of farming. Government subsidies that fuel these unsustainable production systems — both direct and hidden — have to stop. 
Instead, we need to put in place policies and programs that stimulate the widespread adoption of BEA to meet the future challenges of food production and distribution. These polices should promote the conservation of biodiversity, including agro-biodiversity, and encourage local seed banks. Decentralized participatory research that builds on farmers’ and indigenous knowledge systems should be funded and institutionalized, and the MASIPAG approach of farmer-scientist partnerships should be emulated.
The sharing of information, knowledge and innovation has to be an ongoing process since BEA is knowledge intensive. Sharing through farmer-to-farmer learning exchanges and easily accessible information platforms are good initiatives.  
Since BEA is knowledge intensive, farmer-to-farmer sharing must be ongoing.
Mainstreaming BEA will also require support for the full participation of organizations and movements of small food producers. Their rights, particularly those of women producers, to land and productive resources must be guaranteed so that they can make long-term investments in soil fertility, can develop innovations in agro-ecological practices and can access local markets or develop systems of community supported agriculture. In addition, governments should reorient public agriculture spending toward strengthening and expanding agro-ecological practices through extension services and research.  
I believe we can break the food system’s dependence on fossil fuels, but the way forward will require a major paradigm shift that needs strong political and societal commitment starting now.  
Sarojeni V. Rengam is Executive Director of the Pesticide Network Asia and the Pacific.
This article was originally posted on the Oxfam blog.

Friday, December 28, 2012

14 Fun Family New Year's Activities!

Here's a great article from NJ Family! 

new year's eve familyNo babysitter for New Year’s Eve? No problem! Why not spend it with the people you love most? Here are 14 fun (for the kidsand you) ways to spend the last night of the year as a family—whether you want to go all out, or not go out at all.

Go for Broke

禽兽不如柳馨全文阅读A lot of cruises on New Year’s are all about the open bar, but there are a few (like the Family Fireworks Gala and New York Water Taxi’s Family Cruise) that cater to the families-with-children crowd.
2. Spend the night in a hotel. Go for a late-night swim, then come back to your room and relax with room service and your favorite New Year’s Eve show.
3. Stay at a bed and breakfast. Look for one that has nearby winter attractions (like ice skating or skiing) and accepts children.
4. Watch fireworks over the Delaware River. The Adventure Aquarium in Camden and theBattleship New Jersey are two venues from which you can view the display. (You can also catch fireworks in Metuchen and First Night Morris County—see number 10.)

Out of the Ordinary Restaurant Options

5. A diner with a jukebox. The Menlo Park Diner in Edison is my family’s favorite, but I also hear good things about the Scotchwood Diner in Scotch Plains. Come stocked with quarters (or just ask the cashier for change).
6. Fondue. Dipping everything in cheese and chocolate… What’s not to love? When we went this route last New Year’s Eve, I was a little worried that my then-four-year-old was too young to have pots of hot liquid on the table in front of him, but it turned out not to be a problem, and the kids really enjoyed it.
7. Benihana. If your kids have never been, they’ll have a blast watching the chef make a show of cooking their food right in front of them—not to mention wearing those schnazzy paper hats.
8. A Japanese restaurant where you take your shoes off. Finish off dinner with mochi or fried ice cream for dessert.
9. Dine-in Movie Theater. See a movie and have dinner at the same time at dine-in theaters in Bridgewater, Dunellen, Edison, and West Orange.

Local and Low-Key Revelry

10. First Night. Started in Boston, First Night events are alcohol-free celebrations of arts and culture, featuring artists in just about every genre and plenty of kid pleasers, like jugglers and magic shows. Sadly, the First Nights in Montclair and Maplewood/South Orange were canceled this year because of funding woes, but First Night Morris County is still going strong and will include fireworks, face painting, magic, and more.
11. Block Party. Invite nearby families to stop by on New Year’s Eve (at a family-friendly time if you don’t want to stay up until midnight!). Keep the kids busy with board games and hors d’oeuvres that you can pop in the microwave (pigs in a blanket, anyone?) while the grownups reminisce about the year gone by.
12. Family Slumber Party. All sleep in one bed, or camp out in sleeping bags on the living room floor. Read ghost stories, tune into the New Year’s Eve shows, or introduce your kids to one ofyour favorite childhood movies. Have a contest to see who can stay up the longest (or fall asleep first!).
13. Check the NJ Family Calendar. There’s bound to be an event you all will enjoy—and you know it will be at least semi-local and totally family-friendly!
14. Celebrate New Year’s Early. Kids too young to tell time but old enough to want to celebrate? Open a bottle of bubbly (cider) and a tub of ice cream, buy some noisemakers and glow-in-the-dark necklaces (and perhaps a feather boa or two), and do the countdown at the kids’ bedtime. Then put them to bed and pop open the real bubbly.

Do you have any favorite family activities?  We'd love to hear 'em!  Have a safe, happy and healthy new year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

5 NJ & PA Quirky Christmas Events

Need some help to fill your Christmas social calendar?  Here's a great article from Mommy Poppins to help you out.  

Things to do with kids: Quirky Christmas: Off the Beaten Path Holiday Events in NJ and PA

Getting tired of your regular Christmas haunts? There are plenty of holiday events for New Jersey kiddos, but sometimes parents need to throw something new into the mix to keep these kids on their toes. Read on below to score major holiday bonus points with your family with a few off the beaten path Christmas day trips out of state and some little known Jersey-strong indoor holiday display favorites. Quirky is cool this Christmas.
Christmas Ice Caverns and Christmas Shoppe (Fairfield, NJ)
Located inside Jody's Silk Florist and Patio Center in Wayne, the Ice Caverns are New Jersey's largest walkthrough animated Christmas display. A steal at only $2.50 per person! Santa pictures with North Jersey's #1 Santa are available as well. I went every year as a kid and now I bring my kids. The "cheese factor" is a good 10 out of 10, but its quintessential New Jersey Christmas decor. They update the caverns every year and the gift shoppe has the most beautiful gifts and thousands of ornaments. Entertain the kids while you shop for last minute gifts? What could be better? Check out their Facebook page for special visitors such as Frosty the snowman, hours, and specials
Twinkle Town and Little Houses at Willow Run Garden Center (Cresskill, NJ)
Willow Run was always a favorite of my family growing up. Similar to the Christmas Ice Caverns, it is an animated walk through Christmas display, but they also have tiny houses you can explore, animals to pet and feed, and a huge assortment of Christmas decorations. It is free and a great way to entertain little ones when it is too cold and windy to play outside. Twinkletown and the Little House are open through December 24th.
Koziar's Christmas Village (Bernville, PA)
Imagine your child's excitement as you drive into a valley aglow with over 500,000 Christmas lights! Koziar's Christmas Village is worthy of a December day trip. Located about an hour and a half west of New Jersey. Koziar's is a recipient of the best Christmas Display in the World with over 50 buildings and structures lit with beautiful themed displays such as Christmas Under the Sea, Santa's Toy Shop, Santa's Post Office plus fresh baked goods and pictures with the big guy himself on Santa Claus Lane. Dress warmly as some attractions are outdoors and bring your camera. Check out their website for bus trip arrangements. Adults - $9.00 Children ages 4-10- $7.00 Under 3 year - FREE
The Real Santa Experience (Easton, PA)
Have you ever gotten the whole fam dressed and ready for a pic with Santa, arrived at the mall and met with either an hour long line or a sign that reads "Santa is feeding the reindeer and will be right back"? That will not happen at theReal Santa Experience! Come see the REAL Mr. and Mrs. Santa A. Claus atElaine Zelker Photography Studio in Easton, PA. This is no ordinary Santa Claus; he's the REAL DEAL...as seen in Hallmark Ads, Coca-Cola Ads, The Mall of America and more.  Attend one of the Open Session days, or book one of the "Milk & Cookie" or "Story Time" Sessions. Private 20-min sessions can also be arranged. Pets welcomed as well! Like The Real Santa Experience on Facebookfor more information. For pricing contact Elaine@ElaineZelkerPhotography.com. 908-872-0987
Magical Fireside Christmas at the Pocono Manor Inn  (Pocono Manor, PA)
Craving some down home Christmas magic in the mountains? Check out theMagical Fireside Christmas!  Feel the magic of Christmas and awaken your senses with the sweet smell of roasting marshmallows, warmth of the fire and aspectacular display of lights adorning the grounds and buildings.  Enjoy live animal displays, horse drawn carriage and train rides, story-telling, visit with Santa and more.  The cost is $5 per person and admission includes the free activities and five activity tickets for optional activities.  Additional activity tickets are available for purchase.  Turn this trip into an overnight at the Pocono Manor Inn and get turndown service from an elf and a gift from Santa! Magical Fireside Christmas runs Fridays from 4-9pm and Saturdays from noon-8pm, until December 22.
Do you have any quirky suggestions?  We'd love to hear 'em! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Oh, (How to Find an) Organic Christmas Tree!

Here's a great article from Beyond Pesticides on how to find an organic Christmas tree.  Enjoy!  

For consumers, the holiday season is full of complicated choices, including the conundrum of how to find the perfect Christmas tree. The most important part of selecting a tree is not its size and shape, but rather finding one that will pose the least risk to the health of your family and the environment. Thus, the safest holiday choice for you and yours is purchasing an organic tree as opposed to one that is artificial or grown using harsh chemical methods. However, because the organic tree industry is still a sapling in its own right, follow these helpful tips to make sure you not only purchase the organic tree of your dreams but also dispose of it in a responsible way as you usher in the New Year.

The Case for Going Organic
Christmas trees are a big business in the United States. In 2011, Americans purchased over 30 million trees. However, organic Christmas trees, which follow the same U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standardsas agricultural crops, make up less than 1% of all Christmas trees farmed. Thankfully though, much like other non-edible organic products, such as cotton, growing public awareness of the need for a greener tree is on the rise and more organic trees are being produced to meet this demand.
Organic trees are a dramatic improvement from conventionally grown and artificial trees in several ways. The pesticides that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registers for use on conventionally grown Christmas trees are linked to numerous adverse health effects, including cancer, hormonal disruption, neurotoxicity, organ damage, reproductive/birth defects, asthma, and more. Additionally, artificial trees can be equally bad for the environment and children’s health as their conventional counterparts. Most artificial Christmas trees are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. Lead can be used to stabilize certain PVC products, and some labels on artificial Christmas trees caution individuals to avoid inhaling or eating any bits of lead dust that may fall from the branches.
Where to Find Christmas Trees
If you’d prefer to go pesticide free this holiday, purchase your organic tree as soon as possible - because of limited supplies they tend sell out quickly. As of 2008, there are only 63 organic Christmas tree farms in the U.S. but, as organic agriculture has grown over the last five years, it is safe to assume that this number may now be greater.
Here are some online resources to help you find some organic trees in your area:
Green Promise. This website has an organic Christmas tree sources list with operations in 22 states. It also has eco-friendly gift guide to help you put green gifts under the tree.
Local Harvest. Along with Christmas trees, this site can also be used to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area. The Christmas trees can be found under the wreath section.
? If you do not live close to any of the many farms on the above websites, other farms such asSilvertip Tree Farms in North Fork California will let you purchase trees on-line and ship them anywhere in the country.
If the cost of shipping a tree to your home is prohibitive, or you are unable to locate an organic tree farm using the resources above, the next best option is to try your local Christmas tree farm or a farmers’ market. If you purchase trees from tree lots or from large chain stores, it can be hard to determine where your tree is coming from. It is also easier to find “Charlie Brown” or “wild” trees at a tree farm than at big box stores or tree lots. These trees have a different physical appearance than pruned trees, but this more traditional aesthetic is appealing to some consumers. Going to a local tree farm or farmers’ market does not guarantee you will be purchasing a tree that is grown organically or without synthetic pesticides, however these settings give you the opportunity to speak with the farmer about their growing methods. Often, you can find trees that haven’t been overly pruned and grown without many chemical inputs. However, be aware that without organic certification, unless you know the farmer, any claims of sustainability hold very little weight since it has not been verified by a third party.
Cutting Down and Bringing a Tree Home
This can be a fun family activity and a nice way to spend a little more time outdoors. It may also be more economical, as tree farms may charge you less if you cut the tree yourself.
However, cutting your own tree does require some advanced planning:
? Before cutting down a tree be sure it will fit in the place you plan on putting it in your house. It is important to measure the space where you will set up your tree before cutting or purchasing any tree.
? Make sure when you cut the tree that you cut as close to the ground as possible, and that the cut is even along its base.
? Bring friends or family to help you carry the tree and to possibly tie the tree to the top of your car. These tasks, if done alone and in the dark, have the potential to make you lose your holiday cheer.
? Be prepared by bringing rope and a hand saw in case the tree farm does not provide you with one. Remember, most tree farms do not allow customers to bring chainsaws or more industrial equipment to remove trees.
Caring for Your Tree
Once you have brought the organic tree of your dreams back to your home it is important to give it proper care and attention so it remains fresh throughout the holiday season:
? Make a fresh cut to remove about a 1/2-inch thick disk of wood from the base of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. Do not cut the trunk at an angle, or into a V-shape, which makes it far more difficult to hold the tree in the stand and also reduces the amount of water available to the tree.
? Use a stand that fits your tree. Avoid whittling the sides of the trunk down to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed. Also make sure this stand can hold enough water. Stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter.
? When it’s time to decorate, string lights that produce low heat, which will reduce drying of the tree. For additional tree maintenance tips, the National Christmas Tree Association has helpful information on different tree species.
Buy a Living Tree!
The best option, and probably the most adventurous, is to buy a tree that still has its roots and can be planted again after the holidays.
To take this project on there are several things to take into account:
? Consider the adaptability of the species to your environment. A good option for people in a temperate climate is the Scotch pine as this tree has an excellent survival rate, and is easy to replant.
? Living trees can be very heavy and bulky. A six foot tall balled and burlapped tree can weigh as much as 250 pounds.
? Avoid having to dig a hole while the ground is frozen. Dig the hole you plan on planting the tree in as soon as you purchase the tree. After you dig the hole fill it with mulch to keep it from freezing over.
Adding a Christmas tree to your yard could become a fun tradition for your family, and if you purchase a small tree you could re-dig and re-plant the tree for several years!
Disposing of Your Tree
If planting a tree seems too daunting or is just not feasible, there are ways to dispose of your tree in an eco-friendly way. First and foremost, it is important to make sure your tree avoids a landfill after the festivities. According to Sierra Club, an estimated 10 million Christmas trees unnecessarily end up there each year.
Here are some tips on how to recycle your tree:
? Goats love to recycle Christmas trees! They will strip the whole tree by eating all of the needles leaving just the trunk, which can be turned into firewood.
? Turn your old Christmas tree into a bird feeder by placing the tree in your garden or backyard and place fresh orange slices or strung popcorn on it. This will attract the birds who can sit in the branches for shelter.
? Mulch your tree by removing its branches and putting it through a wood chipper. These chips can be used as mulch in your garden or as part of your compost. If you plan on using this mulch in your garden be sure it is from an organic tree because conventionally grown trees can retain pesticides in its wood.
? Create habits for fish by sinking your tree into a nearby pond with deep water. Trees make an excellent refuge and feeding area for fish.
? Most communities have a curbside-pick up option for tree recycling. Check with your city to see if they offer this service, and if they do, make sure to remove all ornaments and decorations before you put your tree out!
? If curbside pickup is not available in your community, many local nonprofit organizations, such as the Boy Scouts, will offer to pick up your tree and recycle it for a small donation.
Holidays can be complicated, but one decision that you can feel confident about is your Christmas tree purchase. By purchasing an organic Christmas tree, you are making the responsible choice for the health of your loved ones and the environment. Also, by recycling your tree responsibly after the holiday season, you will make sure that your tree can be a gift that keeps on giving to your garden, birds, fish, or goats.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lessons from Sandy

Here's a great to-do article from NJ Family Magazine:

I’m still not at the point where I can think about anything other than Hurricane Sandy. We had a huge tree topple over in our yard that ruptured our water line and knocked out ours and our neighbor’s power lines. We woke up to water gushing in the big hole where the tree had been, but no running water in the house.

While it’s been a huge inconvenience (we got back power, but we’re still without water!), I know we’re among the lucky ones, and my heart goes out to those who suffered serious losses. If you’d like to donate to or volunteer for an organization that’s helping victims of Hurricane Sandy, check out FEMA’s website on the subject.

If you’re keeping notes about how to prepare for the next “perfect storm” (Heaven forbid!), read on.  I’ve compiled some sanity-saving advice you won’t find in a PSE&G email. Unfortunately, I learned most of these real-life disaster-preparedness lessons the hard way.
  • Know where your water valve is. When the water company came to turn off the water, they asked me where the shut-off valve was. I had no idea. They said they couldn’t go lifting tree parts looking for the valve, but if they knew where it was, they could clear the spot. Since I didn’t know—and since the water company was completely unhelpful (but that’s a different story)—it took a full day before they were able to shut the water. (FYI, our valve turned out to be underground. If yours is, too, ask the water company to locate it for you and unobtrusively mark it for future reference.)
  • On the day of a disaster, wear something with pockets and keep your cell phone on your person at all times. After I threw my cell on the coffee table to run like a banshee after the water company truck, it became clear that a certain 5-year-old had made off with this key communication device. In fairness to said 5-year-old, when I asked, “Can you please tell Mommy what you did with her cell phone?” he really appeared to think about it for a minute before responding, “I forget.” It hasn’t been spotted since. If only Mommy had been wearing pockets that day, she would have thrown the phone in one of them before commencing her sprint down the street.
  • Bring along a surge protector when you go somewhere to power up. We went to charge my husband’s phone at Wegman’s supermarket, where there were waiting lines for outlets. Our showing up with a surge protector not only catapulted us to the front of the line, but also made us heroes, since it meant everyone in the line could power up at the same time.
  • Write down important phone numbers (like the plumber’s). Even if you have a smart phone, who wants to waste precious battery life googling stuff like that?
  • Make a hotel reservation in advance if you can afford to. By the time we discovered we had no power and no water, it was too late. If it turns out you don’t need to stay at a hotel, you may or may not be able to cancel for free; ask about the policy beforehand.
  • Do laundry on the day or two leading up to a big storm. Everyone’s laundry.
  • Stock up on hand sanitizer. And baby wipes. And I don’t mean for just the baby.
  • Remember that you are your only advocate. Don’t sit around waiting for the water company/Public Works/power company if your problems are severe. Be a nuisance and call often. Better yet, go in person when possible. I didn’t get anywhere with my town until I physically walked to the Public Works office and got the right person. (Note: Having a couple of scared, crying kids in tow doesn’t hurt. Just sayin’.)
  • Think out of the box. (I’m actually fond of the box. It’s cozy in there. And it usually exists for a reason. But a big storm knocks it over.) When we couldn’t find an available hotel room anywhere nearby—and all of our relatives were without power—my husband said, “If we can’t find one nearby, why don’t we go far away?” Such an idea had never occurred to a box-lover like me. But it turned out to be just the thing we needed. We went to Baltimore for a few days and tried to make it as much like a vacation for the kids as we could. Of course, it was a vacation riddled with frantic calls to utility companies, but it was better than staying in a cold house and knocking on the neighbor’s door every time nature called. Plus, our home insurance policy includes a “loss of use” provision that covers hotel and related expenses. Boo-yah!
I’m sure most, if not all, of you endured your own trials and tribulations as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Please use the Comments section below to let us know what you learned that could help others in the future.

Do you have any tips?  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gobble, Gobble! 13 Fun Family Thanksgiving Activities

Turkey Day is upon us.  And, that means the whole family is going to be cooped up in your house (or your favorite Auntie Mildred's house) for a real, loooonnng time.  Sure, football helps.  But, in case you need a little bit more to fuel the day, here's 13 Fun Family Thanksgiving Activities for the whole family to enjoy.

Oh, and then you could squeeze in some time for that football, too.  :)
  • Creative Thanksgiving Traditions
    Does your family have any unique and creative Thanksgiving traditions? You can share them here and read about other family's traditions.
  • Recycled Thanksgiving Crafts for Kids
    There are a variety of recycled Thanksgiving crafts for kids and adults to make. Check out this long list of Thanksgiving crafts that you can make by recycling items you might normally throw away.
  • Creative Travel Activities
    Do you travel for the holidays? Here are my top picks for great ways to keep everyone occupied on long trips.
  • Harvest Blessing Snack
    Make this tasty snack mix and print out the bag tag that explains the meaning of each ingredient.
  • Native Crafts By Maxine Trottier
    This is an educational and fun book for all ages. The First People of North America relied on items found in nature to make everything from clothing to toys.
  • Thanksgiving Bead Patterns
    Check out all these free Thanksgiving related beaded safety pin patterns! Featured Thanksgiving designs include a pilgrim hat, turkey, football, and many more.
  • Thanksgiving Coloring Pages
    Print out these free Thanksgiving pictures and create your own holiday coloring book!
  • Homemade Thanksgiving Table Decorations
    Make everyone feel special at your Thanksgiving dinner this year. Find mant creative ways to make your dinner table festive!
  • Thanksgiving Party Printables
    If you are planning an Thanksgiving party or special holiday dinner, you can use some of these free, printable supplies to help with your preparations.
  • Thanksgiving Talk
    Take some time to talk to others about Thanksgiving at the Holiday Family Fun Forum.
  • Thanksgiving Trivia and Treats
    How much do you know about Thanksgiving history and lore? See if you can answer the questions below correctly and then try some fun, related craft projects by exploring the Thanksgiving Index!
  • Turkey Crafts
    Try these free Thanksgiving holiday craft patterns and projects. Use many creative techniques and supplies to make a variety of turkeys and related crafts.
  • Thanksgiving Turkey Tidbits
    Enjoy these fun turkey facts and crafts and have a great Thanksgiving!
These are just a few Thanksgiving ideas...you got any good ones?  We'd love to hear 'em!  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

4 Ways Eating Organic Reduces Your Kids' Pesticide Exposure

From Beyond Pesticides.

The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) has weighed in on the organic food debate recognizing that lower pesticide residues in organic foods may be significant for children. The Academy also notes that choosing organic is based on larger environmental issues, as well as human health impacts like pollution and global climate change. This is the first time the AAP has made a statement on organic foods, concluding that the most important thing for children is to eat a wide variety of produce, and that pediatricians should talk to their patients about the potential health and environmental benefits of choosing organic.

Here's 4 places where organic helps reduce your kids' risk to pesticides: 

1. On Nutritional Content
In its analysis, the AAP notes that research comparing the nutritional value of conventionally grown produce and organic produce is “not definitive,” citing that nutritional content is affected by various factors including geographic locations, soil characteristics and climatic conditions. The report finds that better quality research that accounts for these many variables is needed to make accurate comparisons, and concludes that at this time, there is no convincing evidence of a substantial difference between the nutritional content of organic and conventional foods.

2. On Milk and Meat
The AAP also notes here that due to variability in cattle breeds and genetics, comparisons of milk composition must be “interpreted with caution.” In reviewing the scientific literature, AAP finds little significant differences in compositions, but organic milk does have slightly more protein than conventional milk, and milk derived from organic and non-organic low input systems yield milk higher in conjugated linoleic acid. AAP also notes that hormone supplementation, which is prohibited in organic, does not adversely impact nutritional composition of conventional milk, but the “biological effects in humans, if any, are unknown.” Furthermore, AAP states that studies are needed to investigate the risks to women who eat hormone-treated animals and the development of breast cancer. The AAP calls for large, well-designed, prospective cohort studies that directly measure environmental exposures, such as estrogen at low levels, to understand the impact of hormonal exposure of children through milk and meat.

3. On Antibiotics
On the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock, AAP notes that the evidence is clear that the use of these agents can promote the development in drug-resistant organisms, which can then spread through the food chain. Organic farming, which prohibits the use of nontherapeutic antibiotics, therefore reduces this threat and, by extension, lowers the risk of human disease caused by drug-resistant organisms.

4. On Environmental Impacts
Organic farms use less energy and produce less waste, have soils with higher organic quality and water retention. A review of studies found that organic systems can have comparable productivity to conventional fields, while using less pesticides and reducing environmental pollutions.
health effects resulting from their use.

Fore more information
For more information on the benefits of organic agriculture, see Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food program page.